Companies bet on AI to track social distancing, limit liability

Companies bet on AI to track social distancing, limit liability
People ride a subway with social distancing signs on the floor. Reuters Women practicing social distancing in a subway train in Milan. (AP)
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Updated 28 April 2020

Companies bet on AI to track social distancing, limit liability

Companies bet on AI to track social distancing, limit liability

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA: Stores and workplaces eager to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus are equipping existing security cameras with artificial intelligence software that can track compliance with health guidelines including social distancing and mask-wearing.

Several companies said the software will be crucial to staying open as concerns about COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, persist around the world. It will allow them to show not only workers and customers, but also insurers and regulators, that they are monitoring and enforcing safe practices.

“The last thing we want is for the governor to shut all our projects down because no one is behaving,” said Jen Suerth, vice president at Chicago-based Pepper Construction, which introduced software from SmartVid.io this month to detect workers grouping at an Oracle Corp. project in Deerfield, Illinois.

Samarth Diamond plans to deploy AI from Glimpse Analytics as soon as its polishing factory reopens in Gujarat, India, while two Michigan shopping centers owned by RPT Realty will have distancing tracking from RE Insight in two weeks.

Buyers expect the technology will work because they already have used similar tools to profile shoppers entering stores and find helmet scofflaws on construction sites.

But some technology consultants that advise retailers and office landlords have cautioned clients against introducing new technology at a chaotic time and investing in tools that may be needed only for a period of months. Privacy activists concerned about increasingly detailed tracking of people also are urging businesses to limit use of the AI to the pandemic.

“The question becomes whether the tech remains after the public health problem goes away, and that is the real privacy fear,” said Al Gidari, a privacy expert at Stanford Law School. “Video in the store today to ensure social distancing remains to identify shoplifters tomorrow.”

Reuters spoke with 16 video analytics companies, many of them startups with a few million dollars in annual revenue, that have added offerings because of the coronavirus. Their systems can be set to produce daily reports, which site managers can use to correct recurring problems and document compliance.

Most work on a branch of AI technology known as computer or machine vision in which algorithms are trained on image libraries to identify objects with confidence of 80 percent or higher.

Several customers said the technology, which can cost $1,000 or more annually to analyze data from a handful of off-the-shelf video cameras, is cheaper than dedicating staff to standing guard. It also can be safer, as some guards enforcing distancing have clashed with people protesting safety measures, they said.

Pepper Construction’s Suerth said its SmartVid system has not flagged crowding issues yet because staffing has been limited. But Suerth said that as more crews arrive, the company will look at trends to issue reminders at “toolbox talks.”

“It’s another set of eyes on the site,” Suerth said, adding that software is less prone to mistakes than people and the “accuracy we’re seeing is really high.”

Samarth Diamond manager Parth Patel said he could adjust procedures when the software identifies spots where his 4,000 workers are clumping together in busy areas. People tagged as not having masks quickly would be offered one by a team reviewing camera feeds, Patel said.

“It will surely be helpful for the safety of employees and their comfort level, and it will be helpful to show it to authorities that we are adhering” to regulations, Patel said.

Patel said he has confidence in the algorithms after his family successfully used computer vision last year at supermarkets it owns to count female shoppers and decide where to stock a new line of dresses.


Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion
Updated 09 March 2021

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion
  • The startup is focused on expanding across the Middle East, then Africa and Asia, with Saudi Arabia currently in its sights

JEDDAH: Nabta Health, a UAE-based startup dedicated to supporting women’s health, is planning to expand into Saudi Arabia this year, amid growing demand for its services in the Kingdom. 

The company offers personalized healthcare to women in emerging markets. Its platform allows users to diagnose conditions at home using an Al-powered health assistant.

“We have 225,000 women every month across the MENA who interact with our platform, and Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing market,” Sophie Smith, CEO and co-founder of Nabta Health, told Arab News.

“Currently, we are speaking to a number of high-profile doctors and scientists for potential collaboration opportunities both in clinical research and piloting our model of care,” she added.

The startup is focused on expanding across the Middle East, then Africa and Asia, with Saudi Arabia currently in its sights.

“Saudi Arabia is a really interesting market for us for many reasons. The healthcare ecosystem is growing very fast, the compound growth rate is said to be at 7 percent by 2024,” Smith said.

She noted that the company has also initiated contact with the Saudi Vision 2030 team to pilot new accountable care organizations.

Saudi Arabia’s healthcare transformation plan seems akin to what NHS England has built, Smith said. “It will look like the next generation NHS without its legacy infrastructure problems… and it is very interesting to see.” Launched in March 2017, the startup spent the first three and half years at the Research and Development phase, before recently beginning to commercialize the platform.

“We first raised a seed-round for $500,000 to develop the platform and now we are raising a seed-plus to commercialize it,” she said. 

“And once we launch in Saudi Arabia, we will raise first a Series A growth round.”


Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men
Updated 09 March 2021

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men
  • Hejar focuses on the quality, simplicity and uniqueness of its designs

JEDDAH: Since time immemorial, men and women have used different grooming methods and accessories to enhance their appearance — whether through clothing, the use of oils and perfumes, or jewelry.

For much time, however, most fashion brands have focused only on products for women, but this is changing. Now, various fashion houses, large and small, are launching a wide range of products to cater to men.

Hejar is one of those brands. It specializes in creating unique jewelry, including rings and bracelets, for men.

Odai Rajeh, owner of the brand, said this has always been his passion. “I myself am fond of wearing bracelets and rings. There are many brands that sell these accessories, so I thought to myself: Why not create and design my own?”

Hejar focuses on the quality, simplicity and uniqueness of its designs.

The products are designed in a few steps. The team seeks inspiration and then experiments with with colors, styles and materials.

“Lastly, we follow our marketing strategy to position the product correctly and sell it through our website,” he said.

Rejah said it can be challenging to find the right product to suit customers’ tastes. “It’s a long story with many ups and downs, but the journey that led us to where we are today is something I could never forget.”

The reactions of people have been heartwarming, Rejah said. Aside from product design and quality, his clients appreciate Hejar’s customer care service and speedy delivery.

Rejah said: “Customer service has been the key distinguishing feature for our business.”

Those interested in Hejar can visit www.hejarofficial.com or follow the brand on Instagram @hejarofficial. 


UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia
Updated 09 March 2021

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia
  • Projects focus of scrutiny prior to injection of more money through deals

JAKARTA: The UAE has announced it is studying investment options for infrastructure development projects in Indonesia before injecting more financial support through the southeast Asian country’s newly launched sovereign wealth fund.

As part of the recent Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week tour of four cities, UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei and his delegation signed several business deals, including a pledge to develop a $500 million tourism resort on an island in Aceh province and a $1.2 billion port and industrial zone development scheme in Gresik, East Java province.

“When we met two years ago, no one was seeing these projects, now we are signing some of these projects,” said the minister, referring to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s visit to Indonesia in July 2019 — the first by a UAE leader since the crown prince’s father visited the country in 1990.

Some of the other agreements given the green light last week included follow-ups to the $22.9 billion investment deals inked during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January last year to develop the energy, infrastructure, and mining sectors, which will be channeled through the sovereign wealth fund.

In a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Pandjaitan, Al-Mazrouei said that the UAE was keen on looking at assets for infrastructure development projects that Indonesia was offering through the new fund agency that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority helped to establish – where it also serves as an adviser – and evaluate them before securing the investments.

However, he stopped short of revealing a figure, and pointed out that the UAE’s commitment to Indonesia was “more than a number.”

The minister said: The fact that  we work together on the creation of the sovereign wealth fund makes us committed to looking at it. We will continue working with Indonesia and supporting them, and this is the nature of our investments in every country.” Al-Mazrouei added that the UAE had promised Widodo that it would be “a candid and a good adviser.”

“Indonesia is a major economy and the largest Islamic economy. It is a vibrant economy with a very healthy growth rate. I think there are lots of things that can happen in Indonesia, so let’s not limit ourselves to a number,” he said.

The Indonesia Investment Authority was launched in February, with the government pledging to inject up to $5.3 billion in initial capital until the end of the year.

One of its priorities is developing infrastructure projects that offer more access and connectivity in the vast Indonesian archipelago, such as toll roads, airports, and seaports. Pandjaitan said the agency, which had a target to develop an initial $20 billion financing pool, had set up a master fund and thematic funds through which foreign investors could inject capital, adding that it was securing about $9.5 billion from investors since its establishment.

Earlier in January, Indonesia’s chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said that the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) had expressed an interest to inject $2 billion and $4 billion, respectively, into the master fund, while Canada’s global investment group CDPQ and Dutch investment company APG were also interested in committing up to $2 billion and $1.5 billion each in the thematic funds.

Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund agency GIC had also been in touch, although no figure has yet been revealed.

According to data from the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, Singapore ranked first on the list of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indonesia last year, making up 34.1 percent of the overall FDI, with $9.8 billion worth of projects.

Toto Pranoto, an economist at the University of Indonesia’s school of economics and business, told Arab News on Monday that the establishment of the INA could reduce the gap between the funds required for development projects and Indonesia’s domestic funding capability.

It would also relieve some pressure on state-owned infrastructure development companies, which had been struggling to pump funding into the projects by issuing global bonds due to limitation in securing funds from the state budget, he said.

“The financial capital secured from the sovereign wealth fund would help to improve their cash flows,” Pranoto added. He noted that the INA could serve as a catalyst to attract foreign investors to inject financing into projects that could yield good returns for them.


One in three global destinations shut to tourism: UN

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 08 March 2021

One in three global destinations shut to tourism: UN

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism

MADRID: Almost one-third of destinations worldwide are currently completely closed to international tourists because of the pandemic, the United Nations tourism body said on Monday.

Governments initially started easing travel restrictions last year but reversed the trend after new virus strains emerged and because of “the persistent seriousness of the epidemiological situation,” the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in a report.

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism — including 30 in Asia and the Pacific, 15 in Europe and 11 in Africa.

That is down from the peak in May 2020 when 75 percent of destinations worldwide were completely shut, but up from November when 27 percent were closed.

The UN body said there was a trend towards a “more nuanced, evidence and risk-based approach” to travel restrictions, such as requiring international tourists to provide a negative test on arrival.

About one-third of worldwide destinations now have the presentation of a negative test upon arrival as their main entry requirement, often combined with quarantine.

“Travel restrictions have been widely used to restrict the spread of the virus. Now, as we work to restart tourism, we must recognise that restrictions are just one part of the solution,” UNWTO head Zurab Polilikashvili said in a statement.

International tourist arrivals fell by one billion, or 74 percent, in 2020, according to the UNWTO, which called it the “the worst year in tourism history.”

The pandemic cost the global tourism industry $1.3 trillion in lost revenue last year, more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global financial crisis.


$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors
Updated 08 March 2021

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors
  • Dubai’s Arrow Capital has teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Tribe Capital for a tech listing

DUBAI: Arrow Capital, a Dubai-based investment advisory firm, has partnered with a Silicon Valley venture capital firm to set up a $240 million investment vehicle that aims to identify a potential technology partner to list on the Nasdaq New York.

Arrow has teamed up with San Francisco-based Tribe Capital to partner on a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and, according to its press release it is looking to identify companies in the technology sector that are “showing inflection points in their growth trajectory” and are ready for an initial public offering (IPO).

Often referred to as “blank check companies” in the industry, SPACs are seen as a quick and cheap route to a Nasdaq listing. The Arrow/Tribe SPAC follows in the footsteps of similar recent fundraising deals involving big regional names, such as Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Capital and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Rohit Nanani, Arrow Capital’s founder and CEO, told Arab News that he was targeting investors across the Middle East to take part in the SPAC, including those in the Kingdom. “We are excited to offer to Saudi investors the opportunity to access high quality, more diversified deal flow coming right from the heart of Silicon Valley.”

“We plan to extend these unique opportunities and deal access to our full network of investors in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. We have already seen growing interest and demand from the Kingdom, and going forward we plan to offer Saudi investors greater visibility and opportunity to participate in high-growth technology investments long-term,” he said.

Tribe Partner currently has about $540 million in assets under management and some of its recent technology deals have included names such as Bolt, Carta, Front, Instabase, Momentus, and Relativity Space.

Last week, Arabic music-streaming service Anghami announced that it was set to become the first technology company from the region to list on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange as part of a SPAC. Set to list in late May or early June, the SPAC was co-sponsored by Singapore’s Vista Media Capital and UAE asset management firm SHUAA Capital.

“The Middle East has fast become an increasingly attractive marketplace. The region’s commitment to technology innovation, rising community of entrepreneurs and infrastructure development has made it a hub for global trade and investment, and a valuable conduit into emerging markets,” Arjun Sethi, co-founder of Tribe Partner, said, adding that “expanding our network into the Gulf has been on our radar for quite some time.”